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Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people,
or real places are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and events
are products of the authors imagination, and any resemblance to actual
events or places or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2015 by Steve Israel
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof
in any form whatsoever. For information address Simon & Schuster Subsidiary
Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition January 2015
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Interior design by Ruth Lee-Mui
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Manufactured in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available.
ISBN 978-1-4767-7223-3
ISBN 978-1-4767-7225-7(ebook)
Authors Note: While this book is entirely made up, many news and sports events did
take place on the dates indicated. All of the public statements by President Bush and
Vice President Cheney are true. Which may be harder to believe than the story itself.

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To former vice president Dick Cheney.

And to my dad, who didnt particularly care for him.

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tsuris (/tsooris/) n.1. Trouble or woe; aggravation.

Tsuris ahead.
Thats what Morris Feldstein, a man who spent his entire life
avoiding anxiety, danger, or tsuris, thought as he sat in his dining
room. He was chewing on Kung Pao chicken from the Great Neck
Mandarin Gourmet Takeout. His wife, Rona, had just asked him a
Morris. Do you plan on watching the Mets game tonight?
He mumbled: I was planning to. Unless you want to watch
something else. Benson is pitching. The Mets just got him. Theyre
playing the Braves.
And now, as Rona considered his response, Morris detected the
possibility of tsuris. He resumed chewing, avoiding any eye contact
with Rona, and hoping that the only sound in the Feldstein dining
room would be the Kung Pao shifting between his cheeks. He hoped

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Rona would accept his answer with a silent affirmation, rather than
the clucking of her tongue against her teeth, the drumming of her
fiery-red fingernails against the table, or that sigh. God had implanted
what Morris called Ronas guilt pipes deep within her.
The sounds of tsuris, like the wail of a tornado warning, the stirring of a police siren, or a wave drawing back on itself before breaking
in white foam.
The dining room was lit by a crystal chandelier purchased at Fortunoff department store when the Feldsteins moved to 19 Soundview
Avenue many years before. Faded photographs smiled from the walls,
distant memories of what Morris used to call Feldstein family fun!
Back when the Feldstein family was fun. The pastel suits and flowing
gowns and voluminous hair at Jeffreys bar mitzvah and Caryns bat
mitzvah. The trip to Disney World when Rona summoned a weary
smile for the camera even though you could plotz from this heat.
The weekend upstate at Lake George when Rona refused to go into
the lake because I dont swim where living creatures swim and God
only knows what diseases you can catch in there.
Morris ate, watching the steam rising above the white cartons
from the Chinese restaurant.
The next moments would define the rest of Morriss evening.
Silence would mean Rona had accepted his response, and that he
was free to finish dinner, sit in his RoyaLounger 8000, and watch the
Mets. Anything other than silence meant certain tsuris.
Okay, whispered Rona. Thats fine. I guess.
Fine, I guess, in Rona-speak meant that things were anything but
Well, did you Morris stammered.
Did I Rona replied.
I mean, do you want to watch something else?
Me? No. Why would you ask that?
I mean, if you want to watch something else
Look, Rona said, her voice beginning to quiver. So Ill miss

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Wolf Blitzer tonight. A CNN special on the War on Terror. Ill watch
him another time. No biggie. Its just the War on Terror.
Morris lifted his head and locked his eyes on his wife. She pushed
her food around her plate while resting her chin on one hand. Her
red hair was cropped, thanks to her weekly appointments at Spa Daniella, which Rona liked to call my sanctuary. Even at fifty-seven,
she had retained the qualities of youth that attracted Morris to her
so many years before: the glimmering green eyes over a high ridge of
cheeks, the protruding lips, a slender frame that time and two pregnancies seemed to ignore.
That was the amazing thing about Rona, he thought. Everything about her resisted time itself. She used passion and guilt like
gravitythe heavy force that kept everything together, including
their marriage. Three months after their wedding, in 1980, Rona
asked Morris to attend a rally to protest the Soviet invasion of a
place called Afghanistan. Morris didnt even know where Afghanistan was. Or why the Russians invaded it. But Ronas concern for
people they had never met and a place they never knew attracted
Morris to her.
It was at that protest that Morris realized what he now remembered thirty-four years later. Someone had to do those unpleasant
things that Morris hated about life: asking strangers for directions, arguing with sales clerks, protesting invasions of foreign countries. That
was Rona! Morris Feldsteins wife.
For thirty-four years.
If you want to watch CNN, well watch CNN, Morris said.
No, no, no. God forbid you should miss the Mets tonight, Morris. And, by the way, youre not eating your spareribs. Whats the matter with them?
The spareribs are fine, Rona. Well watch Wolf Blitzer. Its
Are you saying you want to watch CNN, Morris? Or are you
placating me?

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Yes, I want to watch CNN. I do not want to watch Wolf Blitzer

talking. I want to watch Kris Benson pitching.
I just think its important that we stay informed. With all thats
going on in the world. Everywhere you turn is mishagas!
I agree. Why get involved? What difference does it make?
Then, if you want to watch CNN, its fine by me. Well watch.
Now tell me: Whats wrong with your spareribs? You havent even
touched them. Whats wrong, Morris?
It had been the biggest dilemma of Morriss day. A day that, until
that moment, had gone just as smoothly as the day before, and the
day before that, for fifty-seven consecutive years. If every day was a
winding road, Morris was pretty much doing a tick under the speed
limit in the right-hand lane of the longest, straightest, levelest stretch
of unbroken pavement ever. Every weekday at eight-fifteen, he kissed
Rona good-bye. And it was always the same kind of kiss, more habit
than affection. His central nervous system sent a signal to his lips, his
lips pursed, and his body lurched forward, there was an instant peck,
followed by a mumbled exchange of love you-love you too.
It wasnt loveless. Just automatic.
Then he worked his territory as a pharmaceutical sales representative for Celfex Pharmaceutical Laboratories Inc., doctors office to
doctors office. From one exit of the Long Island Expressway to the
other. Stocking samples, pecking out orders on his BlackBerry. Stocking more samples and pecking out more orders. Plying the North
Shore communities of Long Island, dispensing blue and yellow and
pink boxes in the enclaves of Long Island Sound.
At about five thirty every night, Rona would hear the soft thud of the
car door in the driveway, then Morriss plodding footsteps against the
brick walk, as if he were shuffling toward the electric chair. The two
exchanged polite small talk over whatever Rona had ordered in for
dinner that night. (Mondays usually meant the pastrami platter from
The Noshery.) Morris would then descend into his so-called office; a

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partially finished basement adorned in 1970s brown mahogany paneling and faded orange shag carpeting. There, he worked at a wooden
and wobbly junior desk, doing the days paperwork and tapping at his
computer, in a room he shared with piles of clothing in various stages
of laundering and a sadly drooping Ping-Pong table last used when
their youngest child, Caryn, was in junior high school. Later, he
would return upstairs, sink into his RoyaLounger 8000, and raise his
arms with the scepter that the king of every suburban castle wielded:
his television clicker. If it wasnt a Mets game, it was Turner Classic
Movies. Morris felt safe in the comfort and the distance of black and
white. At about eleven each night Rona tapped him on the shoulder
and reprimanded him: Morris, you fell asleep! Which was the last
thing he would hear from her until the next morning.
Morris Feldsteins entire life was tucked in the safe confines of
anonymity. If Morris clung to any life philosophy, it was Dont make
waves. Whenever Rona wanted to return a purchase to Saks or Nieman Marcus, Morris would cringe and ask, Why make waves? then
wait in the car while she made the return. When he and Rona flew
somewhere on vacation, Morris wouldnt recline in his seat. That
would make a wave for the person behind him.
One night, when Caryn was in high school, she proclaimed at the
dinner table that she was going to be a documentary filmmaker to
expose injustice and inhumanity. Morris chewed his veal Parmesan
from Marios Takeout Gourmet and deliberated. He wanted to watch
movies to escape the world. Caryn wanted to make movies to change
the world. But Morris knew the only way to change the world was by
pressing the TV remote: channel up or channel down. He didnt raise
his objections with Caryn. That, too, would be making waves.
Morris Feldstein was so averse to making waves that he demurred
when the leaders of the Temple Beth Torah synagogue of Great Neck
asked him to become president of the Mens Club. When they suggested instead that he accept the vice presidency, he declined again.
After two weeks of prodding, Morris agreed to the position of second

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vice president, and then only for two reasons. First, because the second vice presidency of Temple Beth Torah of Great Neck seemed like
a pretty good place not to be noticed. And second, he didnt want to
make waves with the synagogue leaders who continued their appeals.
Morris sat in the RoyaLounger 8000, viewing CNN with detached interest. It was 2004 but it could have been any year since
the War on Terror was proclaimed. The same rolling crescendo
of music, the unmistakable voice of James Earl Jones heralding to
CNN viewers who may have forgotten that Thisssss . . . is CNN.
Then Wolf Blitzer broke the days news: the Attorney General of
the United States announcing the discovery of a terrorist plot that
revealed critical intelligence in the War on Terror. And after that
pronouncement, Blitzer reported that Administration sources have
told CNN that the Department of Homeland Security maymay
raise the threat alert tomorrow for unnamed financial institutions in
Washington and New York. Those sources cite intelligence reports
suggesting a possiblepossibleal-Qaeda attack. CNN is watching
this story closely. And will report on it as it unfolds. Right here. On
CNN. There was also increased fighting by a radical cleric in Iraq
whose name Morris couldnt pronounce. And President Bush was
expected to urge Congress to create two new intelligence agencies
with acronyms Morris would never remember, because, evidently,
the current alphabet soup of federal agencies wasnt up to the task of
protecting the homeland. And with that rosy recap of the day, Wolf
Blitzer promised to be right back after some commercials about
depression medications.
Not a word about the Mets. Or their new pitcher, Kris Benson,
who had just arrived in a dubious trade, thought Morris.
Then it got worse. During the commercial, Rona asked: Now,
isnt this better than a baseball game?
Morris couldnt understand why anyone would frighten themselves by watching the news, when the worst thing that happened in a
Mets game was the relief pitching. Yes, Rona.

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I wish you would pay more attention to whats happening in the

world, Morris.
This was the difference between Morris and Rona. Rona wanted
to change the world. Morris wanted the world to leave him alone.
She read news magazines and subscribed to the New York Times
and watched Wolf Blitzer. He was like the Public Access channel on
cable television: there but rarely observed. In 2000 she had planted
herself in front of the television for four straight nights watching them
count ballots and peer at chads in Florida before the Supreme Court
anointed George Bush the new President. And then clapped when
their daughter, Caryn, announced that she was going to protest in
front of the Supreme Court and bring her camera. She sent modest donations to the Nature Conservancy and occasionally attended
meetings of Hadassah, and her eyes filled with tears whenever she
watched the news about the genocide in Darfur. She believed she
could make the world better, when, Morris knew, she could not. All
watching the news did was to prove how unalterably miserable the
world was. Why bother watching what you couldnt change?

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As soon as the gate to West Executive Drive began swinging open, Jon
Pruitt felt the usual pain in his stomach and sighed. He was about to
meet with Vice President Cheney, who would feel similar pain in his
chest. That was the bond between these two men: it hurt them to see
each other.
Pruitt peered at the scenery from the backseat of his car. The
avenue was a sealed-off stretch of pavement between the West Wing
of the White House and the majestic Eisenhower Executive Office
Building. Now it doubled as a secure passageway and narrow parking
lot. There was little movement outside. No scurrying White House
aides. No bustling reporters and correspondents. It was a typical August Monday in Washington. The heat and humidity had invaded,
driving Congress into its summer retreat and withering the White
House press corps to a skeletal crew. West Executive Drive was like

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the main street of a parched western ghost town. All it lacked was the
Side entrance, Pruitt instructed his driver. He thought, Freakin
Cheney. Ordering me to use the side entrance. Sigh.
The West Wing side entrance. Not the front, where the marine
guard stood frozen at attention, where the press could see who was
coming and going, where one entered to the impressed gaze of the
whole watching world. No, Pruitts access was through the side door,
like the servants entrance. Which is why Cheney instructed his
visitors to use it. You slipped in the side entrance that led to the back
steps that climbed to the dim corridor that brought you to the Vice
Presidents office. The exalted senior officials privileged enough to
get an office in the West Wing ordinarily wanted proximity to the
President or at least a decent view of the grounds. But when Vice
President Cheney saw that office near the back steps by the side door
that no one noticed, he said, Ill take it!
The car stopped near the door. As Pruitt emerged, the heat
smothered him.
Thirty minutes, he told his driver. And then thought, If Im not
back by then, check Guantnamo. Sigh.
He pushed through the door and gulped the air-conditioned
oxygen. A receptionist gave him the isnt this heat brutal smile that
everyone wore this time of year.
I have an appointment with the Vice President, Pruitt said. At
the start of his career in government, the thought that he would one
day say the words I have an appointment with the Vice President
was unfathomable. Now, when he uttered them, it was like saying, I
have an appointment with the assistant principal after being caught
instigating a food fight in the high school cafeteria.
Yes, Mr. Pruitt. Go right up.
He smiled, and began climbing the stairs to the West Wings
second floor. There was a time when Pruitts compact and muscular
bodysculpted from his days as an athlete at Saint Davids School

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in Manhattanwould have bounded up those steps. But in the year

since becoming Special Legal Advisor to the Secretary of Homeland
Security, his steps had become tentative, as if feeling his way in the
dark. His smile had been reduced to a slight pucker, as if everything
left a bad taste in his mouth.
And he sighed. Constantly. Sighing almost the way most people
The stomach pain flared with each step. Why did I take this job? It
was so much easier when I did legal affairs at the CIA. Sure, there were
a few failed coups. And that shitstorm when those Predators misfired
into that school in Somalia. But on the whole, every day was a holiday
compared to the crap I get here.
He reached the top step and looked down a darkened corridor
toward the Vice Presidents office.
In an anteroom, a few staffers sat at desks, straight and proper.
One, without even looking at Pruitt, said, The Vice President is waiting inside.
And there he was, at the far end of the room. Leaning on his
desk, his arms spread and his wrists locked. Vice President Richard
Cheney. In person. Which, Pruitt thought, was more frightening
than the way all the caricatures portrayed him. The editorial cartoons
didnt do Cheney justice. They didnt capture that permanent sneer,
the upturned lip that made it look like he was always on the verge of
spitting from the side of his face; the uniform blue suit and red tie
(which Pruitt was convinced Cheney wore to bed at night); the way
he seemed to duck his chin beneath his collar, like a turtle retreating
in its shell; the thinning white hair above the skeptical eyes. He was
all the more frightening in person.
Out of the corner of his eye, Pruitt detected Karl Rove lurking in
the back of the room. In this administration, the most indispensable
talent was good peripheral vision.

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The office was smaller than the Oval Office, and more functional. Cheneys guests sat close to the door. The less they saw of
the office, the better. Plush couches faced each other, and a large
blue Victorian chair was reserved for the Vice President. Cheneys
favorite photograph, from the 2000 election, was prominently displayed on a mahogany table. There was President Bush, wrapping his
arms around his running mate. That was the afternoon that Cheney,
as head of the campaigns vice presidential search committee, announced that the search was over. And he had found himself.
Cheney looked up from the stacks of papers on his desk then
nudged his eyeglasses up the bridge of his nose. What do you have
for me this morning?
Nothing new. Nothing since last night. The last time you
asked... sir.
Cheneys sneer seemed to dip, then clicked back to its usual
place. What about that report I sent you?
The Florida threat?
That one.
We checked it out. Turns out its a bunch of Quakers planning a
war protest.
Quakers. Elderly... Quakers. You know, the Quaker meeting
house. Nonviolence. Kumbaya. That sort of thing. Theyre planning
a peaceful protest against the war in Iraq.
Protesting Quakers. Isnt that a contradiction in terms? Doesnt
that seem suspicious to you? Put more people on them.
Sir, its a group of religious pacifists at a Friends meeting house
planning a peaceful protest. We cant spy on religious
Cheney gave him the death glare, and Pruitt felt his perspiration
freeze-dry along with the inside of his mouth. Still, while Pruitts
stomach was now grinding, he knew that the Vice Presidents pacemaker had to be shifting gears as well.

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Are you the Department of Homeland Security or the ACLU?

Because if you dont have the stomach to do the job, we may have to
look for people who will.
Pruitt knew what the Vice President was doing. Psychological
warfare in the biggest Washington war of all: bureaucratic turf. If you
cant do it, Ill find an agency that can. And further marginalize your
existence. And cut your budgets.
Yes, sir, he muttered, sighing.
Now, item two. The Democratic Party had their convention up
in Boston. Christ, if navet were a disease, then that convention was
a telethon. Cheney seemed to snicker. Kerry came out of it with
a bouncehe waved a stack of polling data in the airand now
its our turn. Our convention is in New York on the thirtieth. I think
DHS should upgrade the terror alert.
But we have no credible
Theres intel out there about a possible al-Qaeda attack against
the World Bank, the IMF, and the New York Stock Exchange! The
Vice President waved another document from his desk. If ever there
was a time to raise the alert, its now. Today.
Mr. Vice President, there are no credible warnings of an imminent attack. Just media speculation. From unnamed sources. In this
Administration. On Fox News.
Does DHS want to wait for the mushroom cloud over the New
York Stock Exchange? Let me remind you of something, Cheney
said. This time his lip seemed headed straight for his right eye.
Youre supposed to be my guy at DHS. The only reason I agreed to
Ridges appointment as Secretary was because Id have a guy there to
keep an eye on things. To protect the Presidents agenda. But lately I
think youre going a little soft on us. Like Rice. And Powell. Are you
going soft?
Pruitt asked, Is President Bush asking DHS to raise the alert?
Cheney rolled his eyes. I will remind you that the reason we
have the color alerts at DHS is to insulate the President from the

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criticism that he is politicizing threat. Or scaring the American

Well, I
And besides, the President has a different announcement. Were
asking Congress to create a National Intelligence Director. And a National Counterterrorism Center.
And where does that leave us over at DHS?
Cheneys sneer seemed to elevate to a quasi-smile. And his eyes
sparkled. That remains to be seen. If DHS wont do the job...
Ill speak with Secretary Ridge. Ill let him know how strongly
you feel about raising the threat level.
That would be advisable.
Rove chimed in: Dont raise it too high. Has to be credible.
Cant look political. What color makes sense?
Ill see if I have something in a nice orange, Pruitt thought, and
left the office.

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Flesh. Hassan tried so hard not to notice, but it was impossible. Flesh
encircled him at the main pool of the Paradise Hotel and Residences
at Boca. Fleshy breasts taunted him from low bikini tops, and fleshy
thighs sloped from bikini bottoms. There were stomachs, taut and flat,
but also undulating bellies, soft and bloated from the breakfast buffet.
There was deep brown flesh, and bronze flesh, and pallid white flesh,
and flesh turned red from the hot sun. Creases in the flesh ran in all
directions, plunging into and swooping out of swimsuits, leading Hassans eyes to forbidden places. There were also the fleshy remains of
the seniors who migrated to Florida from all points north. The nanas
and poppies and grannies and grampses who flocked there to roast in
the sun. They became so brown and shriveled that they looked like
walking beef jerky with New York accents.
And how these people positioned themselves! Sprawled on chaise

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lounges with their knees high in the air and their legs spread wide.
They splayed their arms across each others bodies, or sometimes
wedged themselves into a single chaise lounge, interlocking their perspiring bodies in a helix position, flesh on flesh.
It wasnt easy being a celibate terrorist and pool towel attendant at
the Paradise.
This is the test of my worthiness, Hassan thought. They promised
me seventy-two virgins in Paradise. Then they send me to the Paradise
Hotel and Residences and tempt me with flesh, and try to break me
with the constant calypso music over the loudspeaker, turning my mind
into steel drums.
Hassan was feeling the strain. How could he concentrate on
leading his sleeper cell with these pounding headaches? Not to mention that stabbing pain in his groin. Maybe a hernia, he had read
on WebMD. But the Paradise Hotel didnt offer health insurance to
part-timers, and the budget guys at the Abu al-Zarqawi Army of Jihad
Martyrs of Militancy Brigade declined his request for more money for
medical expenses. They did, in their infinite mercy, make one suggestion: How about a forged Medicaid card? That we can do. So Hassan filled out the paperwork and emailed it to Tora Bora. Every week
for the past six weeks a functionary had promised him, Hand to God,
it will only take one more week, Hassan. Meanwhile, the groin pain
was getting worse.
This is my test. I will not fail, Hassan coached himself every
day. From early morning, when he dispensed fresh towels poolside, to
the evening, when he limped from chair to chair, swiping off clumps
of towels saturated with sweat and chlorine and sand and suntan oils
and God knows what else. And in the hours in between, he stood
guard in the towel hut, battling the infidels all day about... towels.
What was it with these people and their insatiable demand for towels?
He would dispense the maximum two towels per guest, and then fight
with each guest about the two-towel maximum. He would point to
the massive sign with the huge red words: TOWEL LIMIT: 2 TOWELS PER

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and still they would demand three towels or four or

even more. No wonder they wont give us back our land, he thought.
Look how they fight for an extra towel!
Of course, it didnt matter to Hassan that the Americans who visited the Paradise never took any land from his people. To him, they
were all Zionists. The Italian Americans, the Irish Americans, the
African-Americans, the Hispanic Americans. If they were American,
he was sworn to destroy them. He had even said so, in the video that
awaited his final act. He took an oath to destroy them, to annihilate
them, to consume them in a wrathful, unmerciful, apocalyptic fireball.
But until then, he had to keep them dry.
His reward was nearing. Within months, God willing, his task
would be complete. The sleeper cell would be activated. Azad,
Achmed, Pervez, and he would be roused from their long hibernation. Azad would be freed from his job at Bozzotti Bros. Landscaping;
Achmed liberated from the humiliation of cleaning planes of the
mess left by first-class infidels; and Pervez would serve his last Happy
Meal as a McDonalds counterman. They would attack. Then Allah
be praised, Paradise wouldnt be the name of the hotel where he
worked, but the afterlife he had been promised. Paradise, where he
would meet the seventy-two virgins. In the flesh.
He closed his eyes, imagining the virgins, imagining away the
pain in his head and groin.

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